Popular and Versatile – Ground Beef Reigns!

Alison krebs| April 11, 2019

From high to low-percent lean, Chuck to Round, patty to meatball and everything in between, Ground Beef is beef’s most versatile item.  Retailers sell multiple forms, pack sizes and types to meet a plethora of consumer needs and occasions – from a dinner of one to a celebration for many.  Fitting most any appliance, cooking method, or cuisine type, Ground Beef is often quick and convenient, as well.  No wonder it accounted for 40% of dollar sales and fully half of last year’s pound sales. That said, there’s much to uncover in the realm of retail Ground Beef sales.  So, let’s dive in.  

First, Ground Beef’s share of total retail meat department beef pound sales hovers around 50%.2  While tight supplies and higher prices drove this share to 52% in 2015, the more typical share since 2012 has been in the 49-50% range.  As noted previously, 2018 Ground Beef sales were particularly robust, driving its share from 49% to 50% compared to the prior year, although this enthusiasm tapered somewhat by year-end (Chart 1).  

IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 12/30/19; Categorized by VMMeat System

Chart 1 further shows the typical pattern for Ground Beef sales throughout the year.  While burgers on the grill drive the summer peak, seasonal variation generally remains within +/-6%.  This relatively steady consumption ties to the versatility noted above, although the chosen product form varies substantially by season (Chart 2).  Not surprisingly, patty and meatball sales displayed dynamic (and opposing) seasonality whereas bulk and chub sales remained quite stable throughout 2018.

IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 12/30/19; Categorized by VMMeat System

Looking further at product form, 2018 bulk Ground Beef dollar sales accounted for over ¾ of the total, followed by patty sales at 13%, chubs at 11%, with less than 1% sold as meatballs.  These shares have evolved, however, as patty popularity has more than doubled from 6% to 13% since 2012, while bulk tapered three points from 79% and chub declined four points from 15%.  Patties which include cheeses, peppers, bacon, or mushrooms, as well as multi-primal grinds have contributed to this trend.3

By type, retail Ground Beef sales gravitate heavily toward lower lean products.  (Dollar sales are a bit more balanced due to higher prices for leaner grinds.)  Chart 3 shows 51% of dollar and 56% of pound sales had a lean content of 84% or less.  The lower price points for these products make Ground Beef a very affordable and popular option for lower and middle-income consumers. Further, it’s a very forgiving product chock full of juiciness and flavor, and Ground Beef becomes a go-to protein for Millennials after children enter the household.5  The 80/20 patty, for example, is a favorite item.  

IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 12/30/19; Categorized by VMMeat System

Primal grinds and trim also have a role in the meat case with Ground Chuck leading the way, although sales of these products have been surrendering share.  Since 2012, Ground Chuck, Round and Trim shares have dropped 7, 2 and 1 percentage points, respectively, having been replaced by 70-77% (+8%), 78-84% (+2%) and the heart-healthy 96-100% lean (+0.4%). That said, amongst “other” Ground Beef types, Ground Brisket is becoming an intriguing specialty option as 2018 sales nearly doubled, albeit off a very small base.

Finally, regardless of form or type, consumers’ appetite for Ground Beef varies somewhat by region.  Chart 4 shows Ground Beef is particularly popular in the Great Lakes, Midsouth and Plains Regions but less so in California and the West.7  While Ground Beef is a favorite taco ingredient across the entire US,8 Hispanics, who make up a greater share of the population in California and the West, gravitate more towards steak and other whole muscle beef cuts in their beef choices.9

IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 12/30/19; Categorized by VMMeat System

Ground Beef remains an important staple on dinner tables and beyond across the U.S.  Shoppers continue to purchase this versatile, tasty and affordable product over half the time when beef is in their basket, making it a popular and important solution for retailers and consumers alike.10

  1. IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 12/30/19; Categorized by VMMeat System
  2. Note: This data includes meat department beef sales only.  It excludes prepared/deli, frozen and center-store ground beef product sales.
  3. Annual Meat Conference, March 2019
  4. IRI Panel Data Market Basket Study, February 2019
  5. NPD Group, National Eating Trends Annual Beef Report, March 2018
  6. 96% lean Ground Beef qualifies for the American Heart Association “heart healthy” label.  For details on enrolling in this program, Click here and contact us.
  7. IRI/Freshlook Regional Map 
  8. NPD Group, National Eating Trends Annual Beef Report, March 2018
  9. IRI Panel Data Market Basket Study, February 2019
  10. IRI Panel Data Market Basket Study, February 2019